Physicist steps up to be science adviser

President Bush has announced that he intends to nominate John Marburger, the head of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., as his science adviser. The President may call on Marburger for advice on a wide range of policy decisions, including the science budget, missile defense, arms control, nuclear-waste disposal, and global warming.

Marburger brings to the position a reputation for effective communication and administrative finesse. He’s an expert on lasers and a former president of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Stony Brook. When he began at Brookhaven in 1998, the laboratory was at odds with its Long Island neighbors over environmental hazards. “He went into a community that really was hostile to the national lab . . . and made it understand the science,” says Shirley Strum Kenney, current president of SUNY, Stony Brook.

Marburger has not yet outlined how he would approach controversial issues as the President’s science adviser. By the time his confirmation hearings take place this September, however, the administration is expected to have announced its policy on at least one hot-button issue: federal funding of research using stem cells derived from human embryos.

The extent to which Bush’s science adviser will influence presidential decisions remains to be seen. “Presidents have varied in the degree to which they have listened [to the adviser],” says Albert Teich, director of science policy with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. The adviser traditionally serves as the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. President Clinton expanded the role of the science adviser, Teich says.

One thing is certain: Scientists are glad a candidate has finally been named for the post. “At this point, everybody in the scientific community is pleased and somewhat relieved that there is an appointment and that the individual is a distinguished scientist with a track record,” says Teich.

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